The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Holiday Celebration - December 23, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
Looking around at the excited, sell-out crowd in Harris Center’s Stage One, I was reminded how sorry I was to miss last year’s “Holiday Celebration.” Every High Voltage show is on my “not to be missed” list, and I and those 800+ other audience members were eagerly anticipating the evening’s delights.
I’ve been writing about High Voltage performances for almost 3 years, 4 shows a year, and sometimes I’m surprised at myself that I’m able to keep finding new things to say about them. But really it’s not that hard. Each show is so fresh, so appealing, so energizing. And ultimately these people give me new inspiration with each show, not just from the 22 amazing performers, but from those equally amazing adults who plan for them, direct them, coach them, dress them, etc.
Tonight’s “Holiday Celebration” opened with the full cast in formal dress (the young men in tails), performing a medley called “Happy Holidays/Most Wonderful Time.” (Click here to open the program in a new window.) The choreography is a highlight of every High Voltage show, and that was true of this opening, but there were so many other numbers with brilliant choreography. Graceful ballroom dancing was on display in “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” in which three couples demonstrated a wonderful variety of ballroom styles. And there was more ballroom in the “Christmas Waltz.” “Mele Kalikimaka” involved the whole company but featured the women in authentic Hawaiian dress and with beautiful hula moves. And then there was the “Christmas Can Can,” performed a cappella with great humor in the choreography. In my notes I wrote, “I could watch this again and again.”
There were two more numbers in which the dancing was the focus and which I have to mention. The second half of the show began with “Rockettes” in which the women of the company performed a routine reminiscent of the Rockettes of the Radio City Music Hall. I saw the real Rockettes many times during my young life in the New York City area, and they have nothing on High Voltage’s young women. While they were still performing, the audience broke out in cheers. What is it about a kick line that generates such excitement? I can’t analyze it but it sure works.
Another clear audience favorite was “Tap Battle.” I believe the music was Mannheim Steamroller’s version of “Carol of the Bells,” and there was no singing. Instead, the whole company put on a pulse-pounding tap extravaganza, with all dressed in black – the men with red ties and the women with red vests. Indeed, it looked a bit like a battle and seemed almost sinister, but it was full of energizing, brilliant choreography.
As in every High Voltage show, there were numbers that were essentially solos, and I heard some excellent, mature solo voices in a variety of settings. I am committed to honor the fact that this is an integrated company of exceptionally talented, committed young performers, so I won’t mention names. But you can look them up in the attached program. “Christmas Cookies” was wonderfully funny and “Count Your Blessings” was touching, with the solo singers accompanying themselves on guitar and piano, respectively. An unexpected audience favorite was “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” delivered with great comic flair. Of course, excellent solo voices were highlights of many of the group numbers, as well.
Speaking of group numbers, there were several that featured quality a cappella singing. One example was “African Noel” which was performed with everyone in white choral robes and red collars, with bongo accompaniment. “Silent Night” was also sung a cappella, first in English, next in German. Then there was “Throw the Yule Log On (Uncle John),” a humorous piece introduced in 1977 by P.D.Q. Bach. It’s full of double-entendres and is a hoot. I’ve sung it before in a choral performance, so I had an advantage in getting the humor. But with the help of comic choreography, a different ugly Christmas sweater on each performer – and excellent enunciation – I think most of the audience was laughing along with me.
Before I go further, I should mention that every number was set by a different scene projected on the screen at the back of the stage. Some were absolutely beautiful, and many were animated, most often by falling snow. And they were all designed by another multi-talented member of the troupe (see the program).
There were 28 numbers in this show, each a delight, but I have to highlight a few more. “It Feels Like Christmas” featured each performer with a hand puppet. As I scanned them, noting their interaction with their puppet, it struck me that you can look at any of these performers and get the spirit of a song. What’s so impressive about each of these young people is how they move – with confidence and grace and perfect timing and coordination. There’s nothing clumsy or tentative. That was evident in “Jingle Bells.” Frankly, it takes a lot for me to be entertained by “Jingle Bells,” but they managed it with a jazzy 1940s-style arrangement with an outstanding lead singer and 4 young women as the back-up singers and dancers. Another impressive piece was “Believe.” It was delivered with sensitivity and excellent solo voices at the start, building to a climax where the whole company signed the words as they sang.
Yet another emotional high point of the show was the famous WWII song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” With a large American flag filling the screen at the back of the stage, the first singer came out in a Marine dress uniform. One at a time, other young men joined him, each wearing a different service uniform. Eventually photos of 6 WWII-era servicemen were displayed over the flag, one at a time. I don’t see how anyone could fail to be moved by this presentation.
The finale began with “Carol of the Bells” sung a cappella and with all the performers in 19th century dress. They went right into “God Bless Us Everyone” with a recorded track, capping off a program full of dazzling talent and wonderful diversity – a spirit-raising Christmas present for everyone fortunate enough to be in the audience.